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A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: Interview Hanna Thuvik (GHC) - the results can be seen on the ice

Hanna Thuvik is only 17 years old, but is already in her second full season at senior level in the SDHL with Gothenburg HC. Not only that, but this year she is the team’s top scoring Swede with the same points as imports Louisa Durnell and Emma Keenan, all with 17 points (9G+8A).

Whilst majoring on the SDHL, she has also played a few games with Division 1, Trollhättans HC. So, I ask Thuvik what’s the difference between the top two leagues, “it’s the speed”, she says analytically, “both in the skating and puck tempo”.

It will come as no surprise that she has represented her country at the recent U18 World Championships in Japan in January. Sweden came in fifth, but for Thuvik it was about the whole experience, “it was lots of fun,” she says with a smile, “it is great to play against the best in the world in your age group and measure yourself against them”. She rightly has a long-term goal to get a place in the senior team.

Back in Gothenburg HC, I get her to reflect on her development as a player this season, “personally, I think this season has gone quite well for me. I have developed my skating and been much stronger on the puck. And of course, my points production has increased, which was one of my main goals this year”.

What has made the difference?

“I think I’ve have been given more responsibility by our coach, which has meant I have a better self-confidence and that can be seen in the results on the ice,” she says, showing how important the mental part of the game is, as well as technical ability. “One key area”, she adds,” is that I have been more aggressive in attacking the net”.

The club have one final challenge left this season as they go into the qualification for the SDHL against the Malmö Redhawks after coming last in the top division. The young Swede was part of the Gothenburg HC team that won the equivalent series last year. But few would doubt their ability to hold on in the SDHL where the club has their best season so far and where Thuvik would love one day win the Swedish Championships.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: top four teams to appear in the semi-finals

The top four teams in the regular season all made it through to the semi-finals today after winning their respective series 2-0.

HV71, Luleå/ MSSK, Brynäs IF and Djurgården IF all won Wednesday's match 1 which was played away from home for the top four teams in the league. And all four teams won their matches today on home ice convincingly, except for the Stockholm team who needed 101 minutes to breakdown local rivals, AIK. It means that no-one needs a third decided match which would have been played tomorrow (Sunday).

Now they will all have four days rest until HV71 meet Djurgården at Hovet, whilst current champions Luleå travel to Gävle to face Brynäs IF in what should be four, or more likely six, of the best matches of the 2019/20 season.

The difference in teams 1-4 and teams 5-8 can be seen in the total scores from the eight matches that have been played this week:

HV71 16 - 2 Leksand IF

Luleå/ MSSK 12 - 1 Linköping HC

Brynäs IF 12 - 3 SDE

Djurgården IF 8 - 3 AIK

But don't expect anything like these figures in the remaining matches of the playoff where the very best in the SDHL meet head-to-head.

Top scorer at the moment is Sanni Hakala from HV71 with 8 pts (4G+4A) and Brynäs IF's Czech international, Katerina Mrazova with 7 pts (2G+5A).

Mrazova was the 16th highest scorer in the CWHL last year. Despite the fact that six players from Calgary Inferno, who won the now defunct league, are playing in the SDHL this year, none of them are now left in the Swedish playoffs.

Whilst HV71 remain favourites after their convincing regular season display, anything could happen in the coming matches in what will be one of the most tightly contested SDHL playoffs for several years.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW Ronja Savolainen (LHF) - just never give up

Finnish international back, Ronja Savolainen is in her fourth season at Luleå/ MSSK. She has two Swedish championships, one Finnish championship, two World Championship bronzes and a silver from last year’s World Championship on her CV. It is hard to believe she is only 22 old. Oh, yes, I forgot to her personal career highlight, a Bronze medal in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

And whilst she could have easily got a place to play college hockey in the NCAA, she decided to stay put in Scandinavia, “I didn't want to move that far away from my family,” she says.

But she had also heard good things about Luleå from her Espoo Blues teammate, Noora Tulus. The Finnish international forward had played the end of the season with the Norrbotten club in 2015/6 and when Savolainen talked with manager Fredrik Glader she was hooked, “he told me what the organization is doing with the woman's team, how much they respect us and that its’ professional at Luleå,” and she adds, “I got curious and wanted to see if it was true”.

The club already had Finnish international and top scoring forward Michelle Karvinen in the squad. But Luleå’s Finnish contingent for the 2016/7 season did not just include Karvinen, Tulus and Savolainen, but also the Finnish captain and defender, Jenni Hiirikoski.

Sweden’s former assistant captain and now commentator, Maria Rooth, has called Hiirokoski the best back in the game today. And whilst few would doubt Savolainen’s own talent as a two-ways back, it is clear that she looks up to and has learnt much from her teammate.

I ask the 22-year-old what the best piece of advice she has received from her club and national captain, “that I just should keep going and keep dreaming. And that nothing would come for free”.

Savolainen has taken those words to heart and has shown that hard work pays with a remarkable increase in her scoring this season, with 41 points (20G+21A). That means that her and young compatriot Petra Nieminen now lead the scoring for the Luleå. The 22-year-old is the league’s second highest scoring back, finishes tenth in Total Points and was one point ahead of Hiirikoski.

But the younger protégé is not letting it go to her head, “we both like to have the puck and use our skating,” she says when comparing her playing style with the captain, “but she is so much better in the defensive zone than I am and I'm so jealous!” she adds with a laugh. “I tend to go after the puck in my own zone, but she keeps her player, which is much better,” she says analysing where she wants to improve her play.

After years of clear superiority, Luleå find themselves in the unusual position of being second, behind HV71, who have been the team to beat this year. Savolainen understands that the season did not start well for the Norrbotten club and losing manager Glader did not help.

I ask her how she thinks the team are going to advance in the playoffs, “I and the team need to play better in the D zone,” she says honestly, “and then use our skating, hard work and help each other,” she says listing her team’s top qualities.

Before we finish, I ask the Finn about the forthcoming World Championships in Canada where many are wondering if this can be the first time a European team breaks the North Americans stranglehold on the cup, “I think that we need to have the same good feeling in the team, just never give up and enjoy playing out there. We know we can beat them when we have a good day and play as a team,” she says with determined confidence.

No games in the SDHL playoffs or the World Championships are easy. But Savolainen, and her teammates at Luleå and for the White Lions, have the ability to win. Could this be the year which sees the 22-year-old wearing two Gold medals around her neck before this season is out?

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW Klara Peslarova (MODO) - we trust in each other

At only 23 years old, Czech international goalkeeper, Klara Peslarova, has already played in three different countries and represented her country at five Senior World Championships. That said, her only medal was a Bronze at U18 World Championship in 2014, a standout moment in her career.

But despite having played in native country and Russia, it is the SDHL she likes the most, “I would say that Sweden has the best league for women’s hockey in Europe and it is really competitive”.

With experience at both international and club level, I ask her about what the difference between these two types of hockey is, “International games have a bit more intensity, and there are many players with a lot of experience in high pressure situations,” she says. But by comparison, “In the SDHL, the games are skilled, but there are a lot of young players who don’t yet have that experience”.

Now at the end of her second season at MODO Hockey, she also played for SDE Hockey for two years from 2015/6. In the time between her two stays in Sweden she played in a men’s league in the Czech Republic, but “after that year, I really missed Sweden so I decided to come back”, she says.

However, she did not come alone, but with three other Czech players who have all joined her in Örnsköldsvik. They are Daniela Pejsova, Agata Sanovska and Laura Lerchova, are all under 20 and played for their country together with Peslarova at the recent Euro Hockey Tour in Sweden.

And this year she has not only had compatriots as teammates, but also as opposition. That’s because Katerina Mrazova and Denisa Krizova now both play for Brynäs IF. They are two of the top scoring forwards in the SDHL this year and came to Sweden in the summer of 2019 having finished as 11thand 16th highest scorers in the NWHL last year.

However, it is MODO and Klara Peslarova who can take home the bragging rights when it comes to the rivalry between Czech players in the SDHL. Despite Brynäs IF’s stunning season, MODO have beaten them in three of their four meetings. Not only that, but the 23-year-old netminder has only let in three goals from her national teammates, showing that she is equal to them in talent.

The six Czech players in these two Swedish clubs will meet again and play together in the forthcoming World Championship in Canada in April. There they will have a great chance to qualify for the knockout phase from Group B which contains Germany, Japan, Denmark and Hungary.

Back in Sweden, MODO Hockey and their international netminder have had two very contrasting years. Last year, the Czech player was the SDHL’s top scoring import with a .925 SVS%. She would also have won this prize in her two years at SDE if it wasn’t for Swiss national keeper, Florence Schelling playing for Linköping HC at that time.

But this season has been tough and whereas they were second from the top of the table last year, the club have second from the bottom in 2020 and will go into the qualification matches against Division 1 teams.

“After last season we lost a lot of players that were big offensive threats for us,” she explains, “so scoring goals was a struggle for us this year.” But she knows that the club have got what it takes to remain in the SDHL, “I think we just need to continue to play as a team, trust in each other and have confidence”.

Peslarova has consistently shown her skill at both national and international level. And whilst MODO have not had a great season, the Czech international player’s talent, and age, means you will be seeing a lot more of her, hopefully in Sweden, but definitely on the World Championship stage and, maybe, in the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: Regular season finishes with record win for HV71

This weekend saw the end of the regular season in the SDHL in Sweden and HV71 were first with a record winning 99 points.

In 36 games they lost only 3 times, once in regulation to Brynäs IF and Djurgården IF and then once in overtime to Luleå.

The club have quite simply excelled in every area of the ice. They have the league's top scoring defender, American, Sidney Morin, who was 5th in Total Points. Three more of her teammates where in the top ten scorers in the league including Canadians Kennedy Marchment (2nd, pictured) and Kaitlyn Tougas (6th) and the league's top scoring Swede, Hanna Olsson (8th). Spanish netminder, Alba Gonzalo, was the league's top keeper when it comes to Goals Against Average, with just 1.36. They owe their success to hard work, but also buying in the best - all of the names above, apart from Gonzalo, are new to Jönköping but where top scorers in their clubs last year too.

About the only records that HV71 have not taken this year is leading Total Points and leading Goal scorer, which Brynäs IF's Swiss Olympian, Lara Stalder has taken in impressive style with 71 points (42G+29A), just one point shy of having a 2.00 points per game average.

Anything can happen in playoff hockey, but few would dare to bet against a HV71 victory in the SDHL 2019/20.

A Brit On Thin Ice was almost 100% right is guessing how this year's table would look like, with only three placing being incorrect. The main difference was the failure of MODO Hockey to live up to their potential and AIK performing better that had expected.

Here's the table with my pre-season suggestions in brackets.

1. HV71 (1)

2. Luleå/ MSSK (2)

3. Brynäs IF (3)

4. Djurgården IF (4)

5. AIK (8)

6. SDE Hockey (6)

7. Linköping HC (7)

8. Leksand IF (9)


9. MODO Hockey (5)

10. Göteborg HC (10)

It means the playoffs, which start this Wednesday 18 February, with a best of three quarterfinals, will be the following match ups, where the lower placed teams will have home advantage in the first match:

HV71 v Leksand

Luleå v Linköping

Brynäs v SDE Hockey

Djurgården v AIK

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW- Phoebe Staenz (LHF) returns to Sweden

Luleå/ MSSK have been one of the most dominant teams in the SDHL over the last few years and are challenging for third national title in a row.

But things have not been going their way in 2019/20 with rivals HV71 taking their place at the top of the league. Meanwhile, top international players Emma Nordin (SWE), Michelle Karvinen (FIN) and Noora Tulus (FIN) have missed a total of 38 matches between them this season.

But on 15 January 2020 the reigning champions announced the return to Swedish hockey of Swiss Olympian, Phoebe Staenz. The 26-year-old has played in Lugano Ladies in her home country for the last two years. But before that she was the top scorer for SDE Hockey with 26 points (18G+8A) making her the second highest scoring Swiss player in the league that year behind Lara Stalder.

She decided to come to Sweden in 2017/8 after four years in the NCAA with Ivy League college, Yale University.

“I decided to move to Sweden to play the best hockey possible and to prepare myself for the 2018 Olympics in Korea,” she explains, ”I chose SDE because my line mate at Yale, Hanna Åström, played there and the club gave me the opportunity to improve as a player and as a person”.

Staenz achieved her goal playing for Switzerland in her second Olympics at Pyeong Chang. However, is the 2014 Winter Games that has been the pinnacle of her career so far, “sharing the experience of winning an Olympic medal with my family was the best”, she says about her Bronze from Sochi.

After the 2018 Winter Games, she decided to return to her homeland. Shaenz grew up in German speaking northern Switzerland, playing as a junior for ZSC Zurich Lions. However, when I ask about why she went to the Italian speaking south and play with Lugano HC I get a surprise, “as a little girl my favourite players played in Lugano and playing in Zurich, I was never allowed to cheer for Lugano. I told myself that someday I would play there... and I did!” she says with a smile.

Staenz played a crucial role in Lugano’s seventh SWHL A title in 2018/9. She was the league’s top scorer in the regular season with a mind-blowing 52 points in just 19 games (!), including 30 goals.

Now she plans to bring her considerable prowess to Luleå.

“I was very happy and honoured to hear from them,” she says about the call up from Luleå/ MSSK.

It is no secret that Luleå owe their success partly down to having five of Finland’s 2018 Olympic bronze medallists and 2019 World Championship Silver medallists in their team. Something Staenz knows she can learn from, “I admire the Swedish and Finnish national team players. I would like to play like they play”, she says modestly.

Luleå look set to meet her former team, SDE Hockey, in the playoff quarterfinals. But the 26-year-old is focused on the job in hand, “I hope to help Luleå defend their title,” she says, “and be a role model for women's hockey,” she adds with unselfish ambition.

Whether it is studying at Yale, winning the Swiss national championship or Olympic Bronze, Staenz has shown a determination and willingness to be the best. So, with there being a high probability that she will add a SDHL medal to her palmares in the coming months, you can be certain she will do all that she can to make sure it is Gold.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW - Lindsey Post (SDE) - anything can happen

Stockholm’s SDE Hockey are due to finish the regular season with their highest ever position in the league table. One of the reasons for the club’s transformation this year was smart signings in the summer of 2019.

And maybe one woman who has played the crucial role in their success is Canadian netminder, Lindsey Post. She currently heads up the goaltending league with an impressive 94.69 SVS%.

Growing up near Ottawa, Quebec she chose to move west to home town of the Edmonton Oilers, to study at University of Alberta and get the chance to play net in the Canadian USports league.

And in was her final year at college that she got be part of her best career moment so far, “when we won the USports National Championship in double overtime 2-1 against our long-time rival McGill University”, she says with a look of triumph.

After that Post got the chance to play for the only team in Alberta in the CWHL, Calgary Inferno. Her teammates included multiple Olympic and World Championship Gold Medallists Rebecca Johnson and Brianne Jenner of Canada and American, Brianna Decker. So, for two years Post minded net against the world’s elite forwards.

She reflects on her time in Calgary, ”it was definitely a learning experience for me. It was a level up skill wise from University however, you had far less resources and were expected to perform at a higher level”.

But that did not stop the Inferno winning the last ever CWHL trophy in 2018/9, “winning the Clarkson Cup was an amazing experience. The group of girls in that locker room was the most talented players I’ve ever played with and it was great to be a part of it.”

But behind the glamour of the playing with the best, lies hours of hard work both on and off the ice. “Because most of the players on the team had to work, practices were usually at 7 am and then you’d have to find time to go workout at the gym during the day as well”.

The collapse of the CWHL last summer lead to new opportunities for the now 26-year-old, “I knew that I didn’t want was career to be over and was lucky enough to find a place to play here in the SDHL. I knew about SDE because when I played in University my team came and played them in pre-season.”

It was not just Post that could not give up hockey. Four more of that Clarkson Cup winning Calgary team are now playing in the SDHL; Kelly Murray and Kelty Apperson at SDE and sisters Tori and Zoe Hickel at Linköping HC.

For the first time in SDE’s history the club will be in the playoffs in the coming weeks. The 183 cm (6' 0”) Canadian goaltender has a vital role to play and her skill and experience will be needed if the Stockholm club to have a successful postseason.

“I think our team has the ability to upset a couple teams in the playoffs. We’re definitely underdogs, but anything can happen in this series.”

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL INTERVIEW - Sam Hanson (LIF) - you can't take a shift off

American defender, Samantha Hanson, or “Sam” as she prefers to be called, is one of the taller players in the SDHL at 179cm (5ft 9”). At only 26 years old she counts as one of the veterans at Leksand IF, where she is playing her second season in a team that has an average age of just 21 yrs.

But the move to Leksand in 2018/9 nearly did not happen at all, as Hanson was at the point of giving up her hockey career when she left Djurgården IF in 2016/7.

Born in Minnesota, she played college hockey for University of North Dakota and in her freshman year in 2012/3 she played alongside future American superstars, Jocelyneand Monica Lamoureux. Hanson rates her time at North Dakota as one of the highlights of her career.

But although the American did not know it, it was the friendships made with European players in the team that would be key to the next phase in her career.

“I was fortunate enough to have my former coach at North Dakota, Peter Elander, connect me with Djurgården,” she says about the move, “I also had some of my closest friends from college, Josefine Jakobsen and Andrea Dalen, already on the team so that helped make it a pretty easy decision”.

Hanson played 13 matches for Djurgården IF contributing to their SDHL championship win. But when the season was over, she believed her hockey career had come to its natural conclusion.

“Taking that time away made me really appreciate playing the game,” she reflects.

After about a year she was contacted by Leksand, “I knew coming back that I needed to commit to all parts of my game on and off the ice,” she realised, “I started to take my physical training and nutrition more seriously along with the mental side of my game as well”.

And the American has seen fantastic results for all her extra efforts, developing the points scoring part of her game to become a complete two-ways back.

To see the difference, compare her four years in the NCAA where she scored just six goals and had 0.20 PPG. Whereas in the last two years at Leksand she has 38 points, including 13 goals and 0.59 PPG, nearly tripling her output. For the second year in a row, she will be the team’s top scoring blue liner.

At the team level, with just two matches left in the regular season, Leksand are in seventh place, which will give them a first-round playoff match against Luleå/ MSSK.

“For us, to make it farther in the playoffs we need to be able to show up for the full 60 minutes of each game. The skill level in the SDHL is at a point where you can’t take a shift off. We are those players with the capability to compete at that level”, she says, showing how the mental part of her game has developed.

And Hanson also seems to enjoy the buzz of being around a young and talented team, “Sometimes you take a step back and consider where these girls are going to be, even in a season or two and, I think, it could be something pretty special.”

And talking about the future leads us to considering the future of women’s hockey, “one of my biggest hopes is that all the players can be full time professionals. I think you would see a more competitive and complete product if the resources are put in the right places”.

Hanson had the privilege of playing with some of the best players in the women’s game in two continents. And that experience, alongside with a chorus of voices from both sides of the Atlantic, needs to be listened to. Financial investment must increase so that the women's game can reach it's full potential.

Then equality can finally be reached, as the women take their rightful place together with the men in the spotlight of this fantastic global sport.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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Finland’s women win Euro Hockey Tour final against hosts

There has been a break in the SDHL to allow for the Euro Hockey Tour to take place in Småland between 5-8 February. Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, Finland and hosts Sweden took part in this tournament. But the Finnish delegation were rightly critical of the poor quality of the facilities, including one arena where the changing rooms were in another building.

But on the ice, there was high drama when Sweden met the Czech Republic. The visitors won on penalties, in part due to a superb performance from MODO Hockey's netminder, Klara Peslarova (pictured). However, Sweden were still able to make it through to the final due to other results.

Finland, as expected, won the tournament beating Sweden in the final, 4-0 with all the goals coming from Luleå/ MSSK players, two from Michelle Karvinen and one each from defenders, Ronja Salvolainen and Jenni Hiirikoski.

The next item on the international calendar is the World Championships, which will take place after the SDHL season has come to a finish. But the Euro Hockey Tours finalists will not meet as they are taking part in two different tournaments.

Finland will be aiming to win the championship which starts on 31 March in Canada. After gaining Silver last year, they are looking to break the glass ceiling and end the North American dominance in the tournament.

Sweden are the only team in the Euro Hockey Tour competition who will not be competing in Canada. Instead, they will be competing in the Division 1A championship which starts in France on 12 April. They are favourites to win, which they must do to return to the top level in 2021. But pressure will be on manager, Ylva Martinsson, to deliver after last year's enormous disappointment of being relegated from the top tier in 2019. That poor result came after the flop at the 2018 Olympics where Damkronorna came seventh out of eight nations.

A Brit On Thin Ice

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SDHL: INTERVIEW- Savine Wielenga (SDE) - we are a team that fights hard

Savine Wielenga is captain of the Dutch national team and is making a big impact in her first season at Stockholm club, SDE HF. Alongside compatriot, Julie Zwarthoed she is leading the scoring for the team with 21 points (11G+10A).

There are four players from Holland playing in the SDHL and it is perhaps not a surprise that they have all gathered at the same club. Not only that, but Wielenga, Kayleigh Hamers and Maree Dijkema were all part of the national team squad who won D1B World Championship Gold last year.

Of course, Wielenga rates this as the best moment of her career (so far!). Their victory sets Netherlands for a collision course with Sweden when the teams meet on 12 April in France in the first match of the D1A World Cup.

"There is always a chance to win," she says when assessing the team's chances, "But we're not naive, we know it's gonna be one of the toughest games we've ever played as a national team. Sweden is, of course, the favourite to return to the top division - but we're not going to make it easy for them!"

Now 30 years old, the national captain is actually in her second spell in Sweden having played for Linköping HC 11 years ago. "I've never really felt satisfied with that first year in Sweden," she reflects, "but after we won gold there was an offer from a different SDHL team that made me think of returning."

But in the end it was the Stockholm team that won out, "I already knew some of their players who told me a lot of good things about the club and their plans for this season, which turned out to be a great fit for me".

SDE have had a truly remarkable season and it is a complete transformation from the five previous seasons where they have been saved in relegation from going back down to Division 1.

Now they’re in sixth and have shown the potential to beat any of the team’s the playoffs might throw at them. But Wielenga says they're keeping their feet on the ground, "Our aim is to make it past the first round", she says unassumingly.

Apart from bringing in Dutch internationals, like Wielenga and Dijkema, the club also took in four players from the CWHL 2018/9 championship winning team, Calgary Inferno, in the wake of the collapse of the Canadian league. Perhaps most significantly that includes two Canadians born in 1994, netminder Lindsey Post and Assistant Captain, Kelty Apperson.

"I think the club did a good job on researching what type of players/people would fit this team," she says, "We all have different backgrounds and experiences but together we are a team that fights hard with and for each other, no matter how good the opponent team might be".

As the regular season comes to an end, Zwarthoed and Wielenga will have their internal battle to see who is the top scorer in the club, as well as the best Dutchwoman in the league. But more importantly, this will be the first opportunity in the club's history to experience playoff hockey.

That SDE are a team to reckon with is now no longer a surprise, and, who knows, maybe Wielenga and her teammates can pull off the greatest moment in the club's history and go all the way to the SDHL final.

Savine Wielenga is an ambassador for True Hockey and wants to thank them for their ongoing support. Found out more at https://www.true-hockey.com/